Thursday Morning Breakfast (and Murder) Club
Sartoris Literary Group (June 28, 2013)
Paperback: 244 pages
E-Book File Size: 515 KB
The Thursday Morning Breakfast Club ladies meet each week to catch up on each other’s lives and the local happenings. This week is definitely a little different that most. They worry that Clare’s husband is abusing her, Hester’s grandson just got arrested and the leader of the group, Lillie Mae Harris, has discovered a dead body while on her daily hike. The primary suspect is Clare’s husband but then his body is found dead in his backyard. The whole group is in shock when his wife confesses to killing him. They know she could not have killed him and wonder if she is protecting someone. With the blessing of local police the ladies do a little investigating on their own to catch the real culprit.
This is a fun little mystery that takes place in a little town of Mount Penn. Murder turns the normally quiet place on it’s ear.
I was really taken with the way the characters all live within walking distance of each other and hike the local trails. They were always visiting each other and were a very close knit group. It was just unfathomable that there could be a killer in their midst.
The author plotted a fine mystery and created and introduced some really interesting characters. Charlie Warren, the town’s homegrown policeman, was the one that really intrigued me as he sought out help from Lillie Mae and even took her along to question suspects to add her observations as a backup to his own. Usually in stories like this local law enforcement wants the civilians to butt out and stay out of the way. A unique twist that I really enjoyed.
At less than 250 pages this is a very quick read. It is very well written and full of the tiny details cozy lovers will appreciate.
Liz Stauffer wrote stories in high school, but transferred her writing skills to the corporate world after her divorce from an Air Force pilot, as a means of supporting her two young sons. Moving between educational research and the computer world, she wrote everything from political encyclopedias and travel articles, to marketing literature and software manuals. But it wasn’t until she found herself stranded in a South Dakota winter, that she returned to writing fiction.
After a successful corporate career, Liz gave up that world to travel and to write, and in some cases, to combine her two loves. Having lived in some fourteen states during her early adult years, she’s traveled to all fifty states, and to some fifty countries on four continents. When not traveling, she lives with her two dogs in Hollywood, Florida.
For several years after retiring, Liz lived six months a year in Pen Mar, Maryland, a small community nestled into the foothills of the Appalachians, straddling the Maryland/Pennsylvania border, her house just feet from the Appalachian Trail. Pen Mar, once the site of a grand summer resort built by the railroad in the late nineteenth century, is the inspiration for the site of her Thursday Morning Breakfast and Murder Club mysteries. Her protagonist, Lillie Mae Harris, shares some of her own interests. Both women love to talk, love their friends and family but also love to meet new people, love to be outside, and love to hike. Lillie Mae would bike as much as Liz does, if the country roads she cruises were supportive to biking. Liz also has a great love of the beach, which Lillie Mae finds hot and tedious.
Currently Liz is working on the third Thursday morning breakfast club mystery and is planning a grand epic that features the Pen Mar Park and Resort.
Check out her webpage here. Be sure to sign up for her newsletter.
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Excerpt from book provided by author:
When she spoke the words, her voice was so low it was barely above a whisper. With the phone still ringing on the other end of the line, the sturdy woman with short, curly red hair dropped the handset back into its cradle and began to pace.
Lillie Mae Harris stopped at the front window, taking no notice of the white buds that were just opening on the two Bradford pear trees in her front yard, or the spring flowers peeping through the freshly hoed soil in the close-by flower bed.
Her thoughts were of Clare.
She had the best view in Mount Penn from this window. On a winter’s morning she could see for some thirty miles out over the valley with the big blue sky as the backdrop. The night view was even more amazing, offering a shower of dancing lights in the distance, competing only with the brightest stars.
It was now early spring and the vista had already begun to shrink even though the trees were just beginning to bud. Once the trees were filled out with big green leaves the view would pull in even more until fall, when the colors exploded and the view once again took one’s breath away. But today the scenery did nothing to still Lillie Mae’s pounding heart or quell her shaking hands. She couldn’t stop worrying about Clare. Rushing back to the phone, she scooped it up, and punched in a familiar number.
“Hello,” Alice Portman answered in her sweet Southern drawl, after just one ring. Her Jack Russell terrier, Alfred, barked in the background.
“Clare’s not answering her phone this morning,” Lillie Mae said. “I’m so worried about her, Alice. I’m not sure what to do.”
“Settle down, Lillie Mae,” Alice said, shushing Alfred. “Why are you so concerned today?”
“You were at the water meeting last night,” Lillie Mae said. “You saw how Roger was acting. Yelling and screaming like an idiot. When he’s gotten that riled up in the past, Clare’s been his punching bag.”
“Well, yes,” Alice agreed, deliberately slowing the pace of the conversation. “But, Roger was just being Roger last night, dear. Just showing off. I didn’t see anything unusual in his behavior. Certainly nothing to make you so worried this morning.”
“He was acting worse than usual,” Lillie Mae insisted, still pacing the living room floor. “And I’m sure he drank himself crazy when the meeting was finally over. That’s the real reason I’m worried, Alice. You know how he is when he drinks. What he does to Clare.”
“Roger playacts, you know, when it suits him, Lillie Mae,” Alice said, her voice still soft and cool. “He knows he’s going to make a lot of money hooking people up to the public water in a few short months, but he wants to come across as the good guy to his neighbors, not the money grubbing fool that he is. He’ll use every wile that he has to seduce the community. If the project fails, which it won’t this time, he looks like he’s the man who stopped it. If it passes, he wins big time.”
“You’re probably right, Alice,” Lillie Mae said, calming a bit. “I know Roger is shrewd. If he wasn’t always out there trying to make a deal, he wouldn’t be Roger, I guess.”
“So, stop overreacting, Lillie Mae. What’s brought all this on anyway?”
“I’ve been calling Clare’s house all morning and nobody answers the phone,” Lillie Mae said. “It’s stupid, I know, but I picture Clare lying on her kitchen floor, needing my help. Dead, even.”
A sigh escaped Alice’s lips. “You’re way over dramatizing this morning, Lillie Mae,” she said. “Roger’s not even home. He drove by me in that stupid yellow Hummer of his while Alfred and I were out on our early morning walk.”
“That’s good to hear,” Lillie Mae said.
“Stop imagining the worst, Lillie Mae. Clare’s probably out, too. It’s such a warm spring day. Doesn’t she usually go grocery shopping on Wednesday mornings?”
“Maybe,” Lillie Mae conceded. “Or she could be in her garden, I guess.”
“She’ll call you back when she gets to it,” Alice said, a hint of impatience in her voice.
“I doubt if she does.” Lillie Mae’s voice broke. “She rarely calls me anymore. We’ve been such good friends for so many years and I miss her, Alice. I wish I knew what I did wrong.”
“Clare’s changing, Lillie Mae. She’s getting stronger. Give the girl some space.”
“I’ve noticed a change, too,” Lillie Mae said, “since Billy went off to university. She does have more confidence, I’ll give you that.”
“Have you written your article on the water meeting for the Antioch Gazette, yet?” Alice asked. “I thought it was due today.”
“Not yet,” Lillie Mae confessed. “I’ve been too worried about Clare.”
“Maybe being busy will take your mind off things that are not really any of your business,” Alice said.
“I guess you’re right. Clare is a big girl and can take care of herself.”
“Did you hear that Clare and Dale Beavers are going to sing a duet in church on Sunday?” Alice asked, deliberately changing the subject. “They’re practicing for the county competition next month. They’re entered, you know.”
“No, I didn’t know. That is good news.” Lillie Mae smiled for the first time that morning. “Roger stopped her singing for way too many years, except for the church choir, and he didn’t really like her doing that very much.”
“Let’s hope Clare and Dale win the competition,” Alice chuckled. “That should piss off Roger rather nicely.”
“Alice!” Lillie Mae exclaimed, laughing. “I don’t think I’ve heard you say anything like that before.”
“That’s because you can’t read my thoughts.”
“Are you going over to Janet’s for supper?” Lillie Mae asked, remembering the pot luck dinner was this evening.
“Yes,” Alice said. “Janet’s throwing quite a party. She’s invited half of Mount Penn to view Pete’s new truck. Are you?”
“Harriet and Kevin are picking me up, promptly at five forty-five.”
“Don’t be late,” Alice warned. “When Harriet says five forty-five, she means five forty-five.”
“I know that well,” Lillie Mae said, then suddenly turned serious again when her thoughts returned to Clare. “I’m going to walk down to Clare’s house and check things out before I start on the article. I need to make certain she’s all right, or I won’t be able to concentrate on my work. Do you want to come along?”
“No, you go on, if it’ll make you feel better,” Alice said. “You can fill me in on the details at dinner this evening.”
* * *
Lillie Mae walked outside a few minutes later, and the cool, crisp mountain air hit her full in the face. Taking a deep breath, she glanced toward her small flower garden by the side of the patio. The daffodils had ballooned overnight. Yesterday they were just starting to open. Now they were stunning, the bright yellow blooms and the rich green stalks swaying like a colorful wave in the bright sunshine. Several tulips had popped out of their bulbs overnight as well, merging pink and red into the yellow sea.
“I’ll take Clare a bouquet,” she said to herself, knowing full well that Clare’s flowers were as plentiful as her own. But it would give her an excuse for the pop-in visit.
Ten minutes later Lillie Mae set off on her journey carrying a vase filled with tulips and daffodils. Turning the corner at her back yard, she looked at the wrap-around porch on the two-story traditional house directly across the street from her own and thought of Sam and Margaret Jenkins, the nice young couple who had been her neighbors since they moved to the mountain five years ago.
The house looked deserted that morning. Either the Jenkins had gone away or Margaret was having one of her bad days. She’d find out later how Margaret was doing, she thought as she walked down the small hill they shared and turned onto the smooth unlined blacktop of Chestnut Lane.
“Lillie Mae, over here” someone called.
Twisting her head, Lillie Mae saw Joyce and Carlos Castro, both tall and lean, and rather exotic looking, walking towards her. In sync the pair threw their hands in the air and waved. Lillie Mae nodded, the vase of flowers preventing her from waving back.
“What a lovely spring bouquet,” Joyce said, as she and Carlos drew closer.
“It’s for Clare,” Lillie Mae said, knowing it sounded silly since Clare’s gardens were the envy of the town. Her round cheeks turned a pale shade of pink.
“Really,” Joyce said. “Clare?”
“Frankly, Joyce I’m worried about her,” Lillie Mae said. “I’m using these flowers as an excuse to make sure she’s all right this morning.”
“Is she sick?” Carlos asked, a look of alarm on his handsome Roman features, his accent more pronounced than usual.
“No, not sick,” Lillie Mae said. “It’s just that I phoned her house earlier, and nobody picked up. Not even the voice mail.”
“Why are you so worried?” Joyce asked, her British accent a contrast to her husband’s Spanish tones. “Carlos and I are so out of the loop. We’ve been frightfully busy since Carlos started working on the new documentary film, you see. Do tell us what’s going on in Mount Penn.”
Lillie Mae told them about the water meeting the night before and Roger Ballard’s suspicious behavior.
“Wish you’d been there to see all the drama yourself. You see things more objectively than the rest of us Mount Penn folk. I guess it’s because you haven’t lived here very long, and you’re not as emotionally attached to this place as the rest of us.”
Carlos stepped back as if avoiding a punch. “We bought this house over ten years ago, Lillie Mae. We’re as much a part of this community as anybody else on the mountain. Sam and Margaret Jenkins are the newcomers, not us. They’ve only lived here five years.”
“But you’ve only been in your house, what four years full-time. The first six years you were just weekenders, and we don’t count that,” Lillie Mae said, failing to notice there was no smile on Carlos’ face.
Joyce noticed that Carlos was none too pleased with Lillie Mae, and interceded. “Of course, Lillie Mae, everyone who wasn’t born and raised in this area is a newcomer to you. But we love it here, and we consider Mount Penn our home.”
Joyce held her arm out and swirled her body around, a move that showed off the dancer she used to be. “How could you not? Look how lovely it all is.”
Lillie Mae’s eyes followed Joyce’s movement. Budding pear trees glowed white in most every yard, pink Japanese maple buds were ready to burst, the forsythia was in full bloom, and the rhododendron ready to pop. Joyce was right. Who wouldn’t want to live on this mountain?
“Of course you’re a part of this community,” Lillie Mae said. Thinking it best to change the subject before she stuffed her foot any deeper into her mouth, she went on. “Speaking of Sam and Margaret, have you heard any news about them? I just passed their place and it looks deserted.”
“I haven’t heard anything,” Carlos said, silently checking with Joyce.
“Sam usually lets us know if he and Margaret are going somewhere,” Joyce said.
“Margaret could be having one of her bad days,” Lillie Mae said, a frown deepening the crease in her forehead. “The change of season probably affects her more than the rest of us.” “Poor Margaret. Too young to be housebound so much of the time.”
“At least she has some good days,” Lillie Mae said.
Carlos broke out in a laugh. “Look who’s coming down the road.”
The two ladies turned to see Sam Jenkins, some thirty feet away, walking down the mountain road. Not quite tall, but still lanky, his sandy hair ruffled, he was taking long strides, a walking cane in his hand, his eyes focused on the road, and seemingly lost in his own thoughts.”
“Hello, Sam,” Carlos called. “Over here.”
Sam raised his eyes toward the trio. “Can’t stop now, Carlos,” he said as he continued his stride down the hill. “I have to get home right away. Margaret’s been alone far too long this morning.”
“How is she?” Joyce called.
“It’s not been a good day,” Sam said. “But I’ll tell her you asked about her.”
“I’ll bring a casserole over later today for your dinner,” Joyce called back.
“Don’t go to any bother,” Sam said. “You’ve been so kind already, and we haven’t reciprocated.”
“It’s no bother,” Joyce called back. “I have an extra casserole in the freezer and don’t worry about reciprocating. They’ll be plenty of time for that when Margaret’s better.”
“See you at breakfast in the morning, Sam?” Lillie Mae called.
“We’ll be there, if we can.”
Sam waved his hand again as he walked on.
“Sam has a lot on his shoulders for such a young man,” Carlos said, watching him near his own house. “Margaret is damn lucky to have him. Not every husband would take care of his wife the way Sam takes care of Margaret.”
“Let’s hope she feels better soon,” Lillie Mae said.
Joyce nodded her head, but remained quiet, her eyes still focused on Sam’s path.
“I’ve gotta go, if I want to be at Clare’s before lunchtime,” Lillie Mae said, turning toward the street. Stepping into the road, she noticed a truck speeding toward her. Before she could move out of its way, it blew by, missing her only by a few inches. Loud rap music spewed from the open window of the older, ragged, black Ford pickup. Lillie Mae jumped back onto the curb, her stomach turning flip flops.
“Any closer that guy would have hit me!” she yelled, twisting to catch her balance.
Carlos rushed toward her, Joyce at his side. “That truck must have come out of Carl Lewis’ driveway. I didn’t get a good look, but I’d guess it was a couple of kids by the sound of the music.”
“Are you all right, Lillie Mae?” Joyce asked.
“I’ll live,” Lillie Mae said, her eyes burning holes in the back of the truck. “But no thanks to those two young people.”
“I’ve seen several cars go up that way this morning,” Carlos said, turning toward the entrance to the driveway of the local drug dealer’s trailer. “Something’s going on up there, and I doubt if it’s any good.”
“How that man continues to peddle drugs when everybody knows what he’s up to is beyond me,” Lillie Mae said, hugging the vase of flowers close to her chest. “Surely Charlie Warren could put a stop to it.”
“Charlie can only do what he can do,” said Carlos. “I hear whenever the cops raid the place, it’s clean. Somebody in the know has to be in on it all.”
“Not Charlie!’ Lillie Mae said, shocked.
“Of course not Charlie,” Carlos said. “No more honest cop ever existed. He’s a great guy and a good neighbor.”
“Follow the money,” Lillie Mae said, “and you’ll find the real culprit.”
Carlos laughed. “With all the traffic that goes up to Carl’s place each week, you’d think he’d be the man with the money. Instead he lives in a broken down old trailer. Maybe vice doesn’t pay.”
“Somebody’s making money.”
Lillie Mae nodded in agreement.
“But it sure ain’t Carl Lewis.
“It’s too bad our closest neighbor is a drug dealer,” Joyce said, her former high spirits doused. “I just hate that man living here in Mount Penn. It’s just not right.”
“Now I really have to go.” Lillie Mae clutched the vase of flowers to her chest, and looked both ways before stepping into the street again. “Are you going to Janet’s for dinner this evening?”
“We’ll be there,” Joyce said. “And, we’ll be at breakfast in the morning, too. Take care until then.”
* * *
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. Receiving a complimentary copy in no way reflected my review of this book. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”